The characters in Arms and the Man are Raina Petkoff, Captain Bluntschli, Major Sergius Saranoff, Louka, Major Paul Petkoff, Catherine Petkoff, Nicola, and Russian Officer.
Raina Petkoff, the daughter of Major Paul Petkoff and Catherine Petkoff, is a twenty-three-year-old woman whose character undergoes a significant evolution throughout the play.
She is introduced as a beautiful young lady, clad in a lavish fur mantle, she exudes an air of excitement and romance. As the story unfolds, Raina’s role becomes pivotal in shaping the narrative.
At the play’s outset, Raina is immersed in self-conscious admiration of the night’s beauty, against the backdrop of the ongoing Bulgarian-Serbian war. Both her father and her fiancé, Major Sergius Saranoff, are actively engaged in the conflict, fighting for Bulgaria. Raina’s joy and pride are palpable when her mother, Catherine, announces a significant victory achieved by Sergius’ daring cavalry charge. She revels in the recognition bestowed upon her lover, believing that it validates their shared ideals.
However, Raina’s perspective begins to shift when she encounters Captain Bluntschli, whom she secretly harbors in her room as he flees from the Bulgarian army. While she is initially afraid of him, she gradually warms up to him and even offers him the remaining chocolate she possesses.
Her disappointment arises when she learns that Bluntschli carries chocolate, rather than ammunition, in his cartridge case, undermining her perception of him as a serious soldier compared to Sergius, whom she idolizes.
Raina’s commitment to Bluntschli becomes evident when she hides him from a Russian commander searching her room and adamantly refuses to give him up. Displaying her affection for Bluntschli, she protects him and expresses concern for his well-being, urging her mother to let him sleep undisturbed. Her attachment deepens as she inscribes a love message on the back of her portrait and places it in one of her father’s old coats, in which Bluntschli is sent away once the situation calms down. This act solidifies her growing affection for Bluntschli, forged from their initial encounter.
When Bluntschli returns in peacetime to return the coat, Raina’s delight in seeing him is tinged with disappointment that he has yet to discover the hidden message. She desperately tries to prevent her father from discovering the portrait.
Raina’s illusions and false romantic ideals are shattered by Bluntschli, who exposes her to the blunt truth.
She abandons her previous desires and accepts Bluntschli’s marriage proposal, embracing a simpler life. By the play’s conclusion, Raina’s tastes and values have transformed, and her sole aspiration is to be with her “chocolate cream soldier.”
Raina’s character holds immense significance in the play as the central heroine, driving themes of love, war, courage, and heroism. Her journey from a romantic idealist to a grounded realist, with modest ambitions and simplified tastes, unfolds gradually. It becomes evident that Raina may have been more of a realist at heart, feigning idealism until confronted with the unfiltered truth by Bluntschli. The symbolic act of tearing up her portrait further emphasizes her transformation.
Moreover, Raina plays a crucial role in establishing the dramatic irony that permeates the play. Despite her professed “higher love” for Sergius, an idealized form of love, she unexpectedly falls for Bluntschli, a complete stranger in her life. It is her love for Bluntschli that proves truer and more likely to withstand the test of time, challenging her preconceived notions.
Captain Bluntschli, a Swiss mercenary soldier fighting alongside the Austrian-led Serbian army, assumes a significant role in the play, embodying the qualities of a realistic hero.
Described as approximately 35 years old, he is at beginning of the play presented in a deplorable state, covered in mud, blood, and snow, wearing the remnants of a torn Serbian artillery officer’s tunic. Bluntschli’s physical strength, quick-wittedness, and expressive face add depth to his average appearance, reflecting his natural demeanor.
Bluntschli’s entrance into the story occurs during the chaos of Sergius’ ill-fated cavalry charge. As a mercenary soldier driven by financial gain, Bluntschli instinctively flees for his life.
Seeking refuge, he fortuitously climbs through Raina’s bedroom window, alarming her. However, as Raina learns more about the fleeing soldier and discovers his harmless, tired, and hungry condition, her perception of him gradually shifts, and she develops feelings of compassion and ultimately falls in love with him.
Unaware of Raina’s connection to Sergius, Bluntschli openly condemns the cavalry charge as a suicidal act, attributing its failure to the supply of incorrect ammunition. Raina becomes deeply upset by his criticisms of her fiancé, but ultimately chooses to protect Bluntschli instead of ejecting him from her room.
Bluntschli further reveals his pragmatic approach to war when he confesses that he carries chocolate instead of ammunition in his gun, believing it to be more useful for survival in the trenches. He distinguishes between the old and new soldiers, noting that the former prioritize sustenance over armament. These insights showcase his practical mindset and experiences on the battlefield.
During a moment of exhaustion, Bluntschli crawls into Raina’s bed and falls asleep, while Raina goes to fetch her mother, Catherine. Raina’s display of concern for him confirms her growing affection.
In a subsequent visit, Bluntschli returns Major Petkoff’s old coat, which Raina and Catherine had loaned to him earlier for his escape. While Catherine tries to expedite his departure, Raina is visibly pleased to see him again. Unbeknownst to Sergius, he unknowingly hosts his romantic rival, who has come to challenge him.
Bluntschli engages in a frank discussion with Raina, exposing her false idealism and telling her that he admires her posture and thrilling voice, yet finds it impossible to believe her words. This confrontation reveals his ability to cut through illusions and confront reality head-on.
Toward the play’s end, Bluntschli experiences the loss of his father and gains a considerable inheritance, placing him among the aristocracy. Nevertheless, he remains committed to his identity as the simple “chocolate cream soldier” that Raina created. Throughout the story, Bluntschli views Raina as an inexperienced teenage girl, only to discover that she is a maturing young woman of twenty-three, prompting him to propose to her.
In matters of love, Bluntschli remains pragmatic and businesslike, eschewing romantic sentiments. His love for Raina is characterized as deep, sincere, and enduring, in stark contrast to Sergius’ hollow and shallow expressions of affection.
Captain Bluntschli is portrayed as the realistic hero of the play. His presence punctures Raina’s idealism, guiding her toward a more grounded understanding of life. Bluntschli represents an alternative type of heroism, one rooted in survival and practicality, which challenges Sergius’ romanticized notions. The play’s title revolves around Bluntschli, and his character.
Major Sergius Saranoff
Major Sergius Saranoff is a complex character who undergoes significant development throughout the play.
Major Saranoff is described as a tall, romantically handsome man with a physically robust appearance. His looks, along with his high spirit and susceptible imagination, appeal to Raina’s idealistic nature. He embodies the ideal notion of love and military heroism. His appearance, however, is seen as artificial, reflecting his attitude towards life.
Saranoff is portrayed as the hero of Slivnitza, who takes personal risks and charges at the enemy. Although lucky that the enemy received the wrong ammunition, his reckless actions are criticized by Bluntschli. Bluntschli considers Saranoff’s charge to be foolish and even suggests that he should be court-martialed. Saranoff’s belief in winning battles the wrong way and his subsequent resignation highlight his disillusionment with the military and its strategies.
Saranoff’s involvement with Raina’s maid, Louka, leads to the stripping of his pretenses and idealism. Louka’s disclosure about Raina and the revelation of his affair with Louka lead to a confrontation between Saranoff and Bluntschli. Saranoff becomes completely disillusioned with war and love, viewing them as hollow shams. His cynical outlook reflects his realization of the futility of both.
Saranoff exhibits conflicting personalities within himself. He struggles with the tension between his idealistic notions of love and his actions. He feels guilt and questions what different versions of himself would say about his actions. This internal conflict reflects his awareness of his own flaws and the clash between his aspirations and his behavior.
Saranoff serves as a contrast to Bluntschli, the realistic hero of the play. While Saranoff represents idealistic love and military chivalry, Bluntschli embodies practicality. Saranoff’s decision to marry Louka instead of Raina adds an element of dramatic irony, as it deviates from the expected romantic outcome.
Major Sergius Saranoff is a character who starts as a romantic hero but gradually undergoes disillusionment and self-realization. He serves as a vehicle for exploring the themes of idealism, love, war, and conflicting personalities in the play.
Louka is introduced as a proud and defiant maid to Raina, displaying a level of insolence towards her mistress. She is portrayed as a realist, contrasting the romantic idealism of characters like Raina and Sergius.
She plays a crucial part in the opening scene by conniving with Raina to leave the shutters open, allowing the fleeing soldier, Bluntschli, to enter Raina’s room. This encounter proves to be a turning point for all the major characters.
Louka demonstrates her maturity and intelligence when she warns Raina of the potential danger posed by the Serbs and the need to secure the house. Her quick thinking and knowledge of the situation show her resourcefulness.
She becomes the object of Sergius’s affection, which surprises her. However, Louka refuses his advances and exposes his hypocrisy, stating that gentlefolk, including Raina, are all alike in their deceitful actions.
Louka challenges Sergius’s courage and forces him to make a commitment by daring him to marry her. This blackmail-like situation ultimately leads to Sergius accepting her proposal, defying societal expectations.
Louka is a realist and truth-teller in the play. She serves as a foil to characters like Raina and Sergius, exposing their pretenses and revealing the truth behind their romantic ideals. Louka questions the notion of social class and challenges the idea of social superiority, believing that Raina is no better than herself. Her acceptance by Sergius further undermines the myth of social class.
Louka’s character also contributes to the exploration of courage beyond the battlefield. Just as Sergius displays courage in war, Louka expects him to demonstrate similar courage in defying societal expectations and criticisms that may arise from their unconventional relationship.
Major Paul Petkoff
Major Paul Petkoff in Arms and the Man is a cheerful, excitable, and unpolished man in his fifties. He is depicted as a realist with a cynical attitude towards life.
As a soldier, he fights for Bulgaria against the Serbs and eventually negotiates peace. He recognizes the unrealistic nature of his wife’s romantic dreams and understands the limitations of the war. He displays practicality and pragmatism in his views.
Major Petkoff has a low opinion of Sergius as a soldier and does not believe he deserves promotion. He sarcastically dismisses the idea of promoting Sergius to a higher rank and expresses skepticism about his abilities. This demonstrates his straightforward and frank nature.
When Sergius returns at the end of the war, Major Petkoff is less enthusiastic about his arrival, compared to his wife and daughter. This indicates that he is not easily swayed by emotions and is more level-headed in his judgments.
Major Petkoff shares his experiences during the war, recounting an incident involving a Swiss captain who cheated them in a prisoner exchange. He expresses his distrust towards the Swiss, aligning himself with Sergius in agreement. This showcases his skepticism and his ability to learn from past experiences.
He criticizes his wife’s modern customs, particularly her excessive washing, and questions the health benefits of such practices. This highlights his traditional and conservative mindset, contrasting with Catherine’s more modern views.
Major Petkoff unwittingly allows Captain Bluntschli to stay in his house, not knowing the true purpose of his visit. This leads to a series of comedic misunderstandings and reveals the affair between Raina and Bluntschli. Major Petkoff’s anger towards Nicola, the servant, shows his temperamental nature but also his sense of justice when he later realizes his mistake and compensates Nicola.
Major Petkoff is portrayed as a realist and a contrast to Catherine’s idealism. He provides a counterbalance to Catherine’s romantic dreams and represents practicality and pragmatism. His presence adds humor to the play, particularly through the dramatic irony surrounding his old coat and Raina’s portrait found inside it.
In other words, Major Paul Petkoff is a realistic and practical character who serves as a foil to Catherine’s romantic idealism in Arms and the Man.
Catherine Petkoff in Arms and the Man is a woman in her forties who aspires to be a Viennese lady. She is described as imperiously energetic, with magnificent black hair and eyes.
Catherine enthusiastically announces the Bulgarian victory at the battle of Slivnitza, glorifying Sergius as the hero of the hour. She fosters Raina’s romantic notions and encourages her infatuation with Sergius. Catherine’s romanticism and idealism align with Raina’s character.
She conspires with Raina to hide and protect Captain Bluntschli, sending him off in Major Petkoff’s old coat to ensure his safety. This reveals her compassionate side and willingness to challenge societal norms for the sake of helping others.
Catherine expresses disappointment in the peace process after the war, believing that Bulgaria could have annexed Serbia and made Prince Alexander Emperor of the Balkans. Her idealism clashes with her husband’s realism, but Major Petkoff indulges her romantic notions.
She showcases her modernity and attempts to introduce modern gadgets, such as an electric bell, to the household in Major Petkoff’s absence. However, Major Petkoff sarcastically responds, highlighting their differing perspectives on tradition and modernity.
Catherine tries to persuade Captain Bluntschli to leave quickly when he returns for the second time, but Major Petkoff intervenes and prevents his immediate departure. She later denies instructing Nicola, the servant, to bring Bluntschli’s luggage out, attempting to save face. This showcases her ability to adapt and think on her feet.
When Major Petkoff complains about his missing old coat, Catherine pretends it is hanging in the blue closet where he left it, concealing the fact that she orchestrated its removal and return. She assists in mending the coat when it shows signs of wear, indicating her resourcefulness and practicality.
Catherine is shocked and disappointed upon learning that Sergius intends to marry Louka instead of Raina. She emphasizes the importance of wealth and social status, highlighting her materialistic mindset and the societal expectations she upholds.
She contributes to the play’s exploration of the contrast between war and love, as she sees military heroism as the ultimate test of a man’s courage. Catherine’s character adds depth to the themes of romanticism and societal expectations.
Nicola, the man servant in Arms and the Man, is a character with a cool temperament and a clear and keen intelligence.
As a servant, Nicola primarily works in the kitchen and performs domestic chores. He also announces the arrival of guests, showcasing his role as a household servant.
When Louka boasts about knowing a family secret, Nicola advises her to exercise discretion. He warns her about the power that people of higher social standing have over those trying to rise out of poverty. Nicola reveals his awareness of Raina’s encounter with Bluntschli, suggesting that he possesses inside knowledge.
Nicola becomes the scapegoat for the mistakes made by Raina and Catherine upon Bluntschli’s unexpected return. He takes the blame for their blunders, and Bluntschli compensates him with ten levas.
Nicola condescends to Louka when she becomes impudent, asserting his superiority as a servant and criticizing her ignorance. He clashes with Louka over their different social positions and attitudes toward servants.
When Petkoff tells Sergius that Louka is engaged to Nicola, Nicola corrects the misunderstanding, stating that Louka is not engaged to him. He explains that they spread false news of their engagement to protect Louka and create opportunities for their future ambitions.
Nicola claims credit for shaping Louka’s transformation into a refined woman. He takes pride in teaching her various aspects of etiquette and grooming, such as giving up false hair, maintaining clean hands, and exhibiting daintiness.
Nicola’s character serves as both Louka’s protector and tutor. Despite their shared servant status, he recognizes Louka’s potential to marry into the upper class and intends to benefit from her patronage when that happens. Nicola’s character contributes to the exploration of class and marriage themes in the play.
Furthermore, Nicola’s realism sets him apart from characters like Raina and Sergius, who are more idealistic. He possesses a clear understanding of his social position and doesn’t harbor any illusions.
Russian Officer is a character with limited appearance and significance in Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man.
He is briefly mentioned and described as a young Russian officer in Bulgarian uniform. This description establishes his identity as a member of the Russian military.
The officer appears in the opening scene when a fleeing Serbian soldier escapes into Raina’s bedroom. He enters the room with his sword and proceeds to conduct a search, asking Raina if anyone could have entered without her knowledge. Raina refuses to allow the search and asserts that she has not been to bed.
After checking the balcony, the officer apologizes to Raina, attributing the heightened paranoia to the neighbors’ fear of Serbian soldiers. He bids Raina goodnight and exits the scene with a military bow, accompanied by Catherine.
His appearance serves to emphasize the conflict between the Bulgarian and Serbian armies, with the Austrians controlling the Serbian army and the Russians supporting the Bulgarian forces.
Russian Officer’s entry creates tension and highlights the potential danger faced by Bluntschli. If the officer had noticed the gun carelessly left on the seat, he would have insisted on a search, potentially leading to Bluntschli’s capture or even death. This possibility adds to the suspense and contributes to the unfolding of the story.